www.barrowvoice.co.uk First Publised 1975
Barrow Voice
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Good Neighbours

It is probably not surprising how much the idea of fences and boundaries have entered our language. Good fences, the saying goes, make good neighbours. And when the worst has happened and we’ve fallen out we talk about mending fences. With the number of people in Barrow rising, it seems a good moment to look into the legal position of fences - and hedges.

There are also a number of commonly held beliefs that appear not to be true. This article is far too short to have all the answers but it might whet the appetite for your own research. As so often these days, I consulted the internet and found some very useful websites about boundary problems. I started with one called Fences and Boundaries, and you can look at it yourself if you are interested.

The single best piece of guidance from my research is – talk to your neighbour. Don’t let bad feeling grow like weeds. The enormous number of possible difficulties is more easily looked up yourself so I looked into the most commonly occurring issues. Fences. The boundary goes with the land deeds. The owner of the fence, owns both sides of the fence and the owner’s neighbour cannot stain the fence, use it to support plants or any other construction even if s/he lives on the right hand side of it. In short, anything you do to your neighbour's fence without your neighbour's permission - including staining, painting or applying preservative to your side of your neighbour's fence - amounts to criminal damage. A commonly held understanding is that the owner of the fence is responsible for the right side and the neighbour the left. This does not appear to be the case – the owner is responsible for both sides.

Only if your neighbour gives you permission to do so.

Nor can you expect the owner of the fence to repair it unless s/he intends to do it, even if it borders your property.

Trimming hedges. Theoretically, you shouldn't trim your neighbour's hedge for fear of doing criminal damage to his property. However, your neighbour's hedge has no entitlement to occupy the air space above your land. This would appear to give you the right to alleviate the nuisance caused by the encroachment of your neighbour's hedge onto your land, allowing you to trim back its branches to the point at which they each cross the boundary. Should you then return the trimmings to your neighbour, as they are his property? General practice is that you trim your side of the hedge and dispose of the trimmings yourself.

And what about the height of the hedge? Well, as it is your neighbour's hedge then he is entitled to decide to what height it grows. You may therefore trim only your side of his hedge where it crosses the boundary and you may not reduce the height of the hedge. There are some famous court cases when the fast growing fir trees have caused problems with light, and the reason they hit the news appears to be that the law cannot take specific situations into account and the only way to get satisfaction is through the courts.

Weeds A Plenty